Monday, December 5, 2022

ASEAN geared to deal harshly with the Myanmar military junta

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After nearly two years of getting nowhere to even stem the tide of open armed conflict in Myanmar in the aftermath of the Burmese military junta putsch that ousted the civilian government in February 2021, ASEAN Leaders’ Review and Decision on the Implementation of the Five-Point Consensus (5PC) 15-point statement was released on November 11, 2022, that should make a difference.

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ASEAN Leaders’ Statement

Some important points are as follows:

“During the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits, the Leaders assessed the implementation of Five-Point Consensus as agreed at the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in April 2021,” writes the first paragraph of the statement.

ASEAN foreign ministers hold hands as ASEANs style
ASEAN foreign ministers hold hands as ASEANs style.

“We reaffirmed that Myanmar remains an integral part of ASEAN,” writes the second paragraph.

“Considering that the situation in Myanmar remains critical and fragile, with growing violence as a major concern which affects not only Myanmar but also ASEAN’s Community-building efforts, ASEAN is committed to assist Myanmar in finding a peaceful and durable solution to the current crisis,” writes the fourth paragraph.

The fifth continues, “With little progress achieved in implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, it is therefore incumbent on the Myanmar Armed Forces to comply with its commitments to the ASEAN Leaders.”

The sixth writes, “The Five-Point Consensus shall remain our valid reference and should be implemented in its entirety.”

“There is a need for an implementation plan that outlines concrete, practical and measurable indicators with specific timeline to support the Five-Point Consensus and, therefore, shall be developed. We tasked the Foreign Ministers to develop the implementation plan,” according to the seventh paragraph.

The most important point and measure to involve all stakeholders in paragraph eighth states, “To seek all parties concerned to adhere to and implement the Five-Point Consensus and for ASEAN to engage all stakeholders soon. Engagement would be done in a flexible and informal manner, primarily undertaken by the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar due to the neutrality that is inherent in his/her mandate, with the sole objective of restoring peace and stability in the country in accordance with the Five-Point Consensus.”

ASEAN leaders
ASEAN leaders.

ASEAN 5PC

ASEAN Five-Point Consensus (ASEAN 5PC) to help end the crisis following the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in Jakarta in April 2021, calls for:

  1. Immediate cessation of violence with all parties enjoined to exercise utmost restraint.
  2. Constructive dialogue among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution.
  3. A special envoy of the ASEAN Chair to facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, with the assistance of the ASEAN Secretary-General of ASEAN.
  4. ASEAN to provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre.
  5. The Special Envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

Response of Military Junta and NUG

The military junta on November 11 slammed a decision by ASEAN to engage with opposition groups, which include the parallel National Unity Government (NUG) to the junta and ethnic resistance organizations (ERO), to seek ways to defuse the ever heightening civil war, with no sign of ending anytime soon.

“Myanmar strongly objects to and condemns the attempts by ASEAN member states to engage with those unlawful and terrorist organisations through any means and forms,” the junta’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.

In contrast, the NUG 6-paragraph statement on November 12, regarding the ASEAN statement of November 11 noted and agreed that the ASEAN 5PC isn’t progressing and that there is a need to reframe or expand the 5PC, vowing to work with the ASEAN.

Part of its statement writes: “The National Unity Government agrees that the lack of progress on Five-Point Consensus (5PC) implementation requires that other options be explores. The 5PC is ill-fit for purpose and must be reframed or expanded, with engagement with the National Unity Government built in, before an implementation plan and useful indicators can be developed. The National Unity Government stands ready to work with ASEAN Foreign Ministers and Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar to shape this process.”

The National Unity Government further offered to partner with ASEAN in delivering humanitarian assistance to the needy communities; welcomed ASEAN Leaders’ call for UN support; said that ASEAN Leaders could have barred the illegal junta from all ASEAN meetings, and is confident that the ASEAN Coordinating Council will adopt this stance.

Earlier, on November 8 prior to the ASEAN Summit Meeting, Acting President of the NUG Duwa Lashi La wrote to the nine ASEAN Leaders stating: “I note that the military junta’s proposed elections are not only a sham and illegal, but they will certainly cause greater instability in Myanmar and the region. We earnestly hope that ASEAN rejects the junta’s sham elections. ASEAN must be genuine in seeking a sustainable political solution for peace and stability in our country.”

“The NUG and other stakeholders have prepared a serious roadmap for the future of Myanmar. It is based on respect for the law, democracy, peace and a commitment to an inclusive new Myanmar that extends its support and protection to all our peoples including Rohingya. We ask you to support this roadmap in the interest of our entire region,” he added in the closing of his appeal letter.
Meanwhile, on November 17, nearly 6,000 prisoners were released by the junta to mark the national day.

Among those released from various prisons across the country were Mr. Sean Turnell, economic advisor during the NLD government; Counselor Office Minister U Kyaw Tint Swe; Vicky Bowman, former British Ambassador to Myanmar; Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kobota; and Myanmar-born American U Kyaw Htay Oo.

General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the military junta, said that among the 5,774 prisoners released today, 712 were arrested under Section 505 (a) for political activities, according to the RFA report.

However, how many political prisoners were released is not yet known at this writing.

According to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners (AAPP) on November 16, 13,015 people have been arrested nationwide in the more than 21 months since the military coup.

Other opinions

According to the leaked documents from ASEAN closed door meeting ASEAN Leaders were worried that Myanmar conflict could morph into a proxy war of China and US, which ASEAN leaders wanted to avoid at all cost. Another point is that they didn’t want to create the impression that Myanmar (meaning: the military junta) will be kicked out altogether by barring it to attend all the ASEAN meetings, according to the RFA report of November 14.

Human rights lawyer Patrick Phongsathorn from Fortify Rights said: “If we look at the discussions in these leaked documents, ASEAN is primarily concerned on keeping no influence comes from outside the group on Myanmar affairs. That is what ASEAN leaders really take seriously. They are more concerned about preventing China and the US from intervening in Myanmar affairs. They are oblivious to the fact that thousands of people are dying at the hands of military leaders on the ground. As long as ASEAN leaders do nothing effectively, lives will continue to be lost.”

International news agencies are of the opinion that the ASEAN Summit 40-41 wasn’t doing enough and made little effort to pressure the junta to halt its terrorist attacks on the people.

The junta has been barred from attending ASEAN Summit meetings and foreign ministers’ conferences and the civil society organizations have been urging that junta be banned from all ASEAN-related meetings, of which Indonesian has also proposed in the same vein.

But AP news agency reported Thailand, Cambodia and Laos rejected it by reasoning that if the junta is barred to attend all ASEAN meetings it would mean like revoking Myanmar’s membership, during the closed door ASEAN Leaders’ meeting.

Apart from that Myanmar is part of the ASEAN which cannot be omitted and thus urging or proposal of expelling Myanmar was rejected at the closed door ASEAN Leaders’ meeting, according to the AP news agency, RFA report of November 14 wrote.

Regarding the only partial ban of the junta in ASEAN meetings, there is a problem and deeply flawed according to Patrick Phongsathorn.

He said, “According to these leaked documents, it is proposed not to change the permission of representatives of Myanmar’s military leaders to attend all ASEAN meetings, except for the ASEAN Summit and Foreign Ministers’ Meetings. This shows the serious failure of ASEAN to take the lead in solving the Myanmar issue. Since the Burmese military leader is committing crimes against humanity and killing his own people, the military leader should not be allowed to participate in the entire ASEAN organization system at all.”

“As of now, the military council is continuing to participate in discussions to resolve the Myanmar problem. Since they themselves are the source of the problem, they cannot be allowed to participate in trying to solve the problem. Just this week, an ASEAN air force coordination meeting will be held under the leadership of the Myanmar Air Force. This air force is bombing civilians all over Myanmar. This is not acceptable in any way. I would like to ask why this murderous military leader is still allowed to attend ASEAN meetings, ” he added.

According to RFA report of November 15, U Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, a group made up of former military generals, criticizes ASEAN for having a wrong approach and interfering in other people’s internal affairs.

“If ASEAN wants Myanmar’s full cooperation, it will not be easy to make decision on their own. It is a political stumbling block that cannot be resolved at the moment. The other thing is according to the ASEAN’s original principles setting time frame and all are already a form of meddling in another country’s internal affairs. This won’t be accepted. The approach is quite off (the track). Assuredly, if it is like this there will be no answer.”

U Thein Tun Oo also said that the military council will not be bothered by ASEAN’s decisions, but will continue to do what it has to do, including holding elections in 2023.

Perspective

Given such political scenarios, mediation led by ASEAN between the junta and its opposition groups, which is a loose alliance of ethnic resistance organizations (ERO) and the NUG, may not happen, due to the junta’s rejection of ASEAN decision to implement the 5PC attached with time frame, blaming the barring of junta to participate in ASEAN Summit Meeting.

The deliberation of timeline tasked to the ASEAN foreign ministers to create a time frame for the junta to comply may take at least six to eight months. By that time, the junta may have pulled through its 2023 scheduled general election, even though it may be flawed with only limited constituencies able hold the elections.

After that the junta may claim legitimacy and some governments, including even some of the UN and ASEAN organs may invite the junta’s controlled government to participate, although the UN Credential Committee and UNGA haven’t decided yet on which party, junta or NUG, should be represented at the UN.

But the civil war and partial ceasefire with a small group of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement-Signatory-Ethnic Armed Organizations may likely go parallel with each other and the population will continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing civil war.

The proposition of not expelling the junta altogether and allowing it to attend some ASEAN meetings, except the ASEAN Summit Meeting and Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, is not in order, as the ASEAN can use it as a stick by replacing the junta’s seat with the NUG as observer to create a sort of pressure on the junta to end the armed conflict and agree to nationwide ceasefire.

Moreover, ASEAN can either ask the NUG to send the National Unity Consultative Committee (NUCC) to be seen as more inclusive, which is made up of a broad spectrum of ERO, NUG and civil society organizations, or even ask to expand it broader, for the purpose of working with the ASEAN together to end the civil war.

If the junta is hard-headed and continues to go on without any hint of ending the civil war, ASEAN can evaluate its position either to upgrade the NUG /NUCC observer position or expel the junta altogether, or applying them both.

For the time being, there is a hint that the junta is starting to loosen up its tyrannical rule a bit by releasing some political prisoners, but will have to wait and see how far the junta will go.

U Aung Myo Kyaw, spokesperson for the AAPP, said that the release of the prisoners today is just a political ploy by the military council to make the 2023 election internationally acceptable.
But it could also be to ward off the ASEAN “stick” which is threatening to set a time frame for the junta to implement the ASEAN’s 5-Point Consensus, primarily to end the civil war and attacks on the people.

Either way, ASEAN can’t let the junta hijack it’s organisation and paralysed it forever and it has to do something drastic if it wants to be an influential player at the world stage.

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